A Torch Against the Night (Ember in the Ashes Series #2)

A Torch Against the Night (Ember in the Ashes Series #2)

4.6 12
by Sabaa Tahir
     
 

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THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING SEQUEL TO AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

A USA TODAY BESTSELLER
A WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER

Spectacular.”—Entertainment Weekly

Fresh and exciting...Tahir has shown a remarkable talent for penning complex

Overview

THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING SEQUEL TO AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

A USA TODAY BESTSELLER
A WALL STREET JOURNAL BESTSELLER

Spectacular.”—Entertainment Weekly

Fresh and exciting...Tahir has shown a remarkable talent for penning complex villains.”—A.V. Club

"Even higher stakes than its predecessor… thrilling." Publishers Weekly, starred review

“[An] action-packed, breathlessly paced story.” —Booklist, starred review


Set in a rich, high-fantasy world inspired by ancient Rome, Sabaa Tahir's AN EMBER IN THE ASHES told the story of Laia, a slave fighting for her family, and Elias, a young soldier fighting for his freedom.

 
Now, in A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT, Elias and Laia are running for their lives.

After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.
 
Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars' survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.
 
But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus's will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape...and kill them both.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for A Torch Against the Night:

“The stakes here are high and the plot runs like a well-oiled machine, ratcheting up the tension with every chapter.” —NPR.org

“An adrenaline rush till the very last page.” —Buzzfeed
 
“The sequel to Tahir’s bestselling smash An Ember in the Ashes finally comes out in August, and let me tell you, it does not disappoint.” —Book Riot
 
“A Torch Against the Night is an unabashed page-turner that scarcely ever pauses for breath.” —The Christian Science Monitor
 
“Fast-paced, exciting and full of adrenaline, A Torch Against The Night is everything fans of Tahir’s debut could possibly anticipate in a sequel.” —The Bucks County Courier Times

“Thrilling…Tahir meticulously plots these novels, ramping up the suspense and including plenty of surprises.” —The Buffalo News

“Delivers in every way...The stakes have never been higher, and the tension is acutely felt as Elias and Laia run for their lives.” —USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog
 
“At last, it’s here...It’s as heartbreaking as it is action-packed, delivering a worthy second installment in Tahir’s bestselling series.” —Paste

“Tahir proves to be a master of suspense and a canny practitioner of the cliffhanger, riveting readers’ attention throughout.…[An] action-packed, breathlessly paced story.” —Booklist, starred review

"This sequel has a darker tone and even higher stakes than its predecessor, setting the stage for a thrilling conclusion." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Excellent." —Kirkus Reviews

"The rare sequel that improves on the original...unputdownable." —Common Sense Media (Five Stars)

Praise for An Ember in the Ashes:

“This novel is a harrowing, haunting reminder of what it means to be human — and how hope might be kindled in the midst of oppression and fear.” —The Washington Post

“An Ember in the Ashes could launch Sabaa Tahir into JK Rowling territory…It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”—Public Radio International

"An Ember in the Ashes glows, burns, and smolders—as beautiful and radiant as it is searing."—Huffington Post 

“[An Ember in the Ashes] thrusts its readers into a world marred by violence and oppression, yet does so with simple prose that can offer moments of loveliness in its clarity. This complexity makes Ember a worthy novel—and one as brave as its characters.” —The New York Times Book Review 

“Sabaa Tahir spins a captivating, heart-pounding fantasy.” —Us Weekly

“An Ember in the Ashes mixes The Hunger Games with Game of Thrones...and adds a dash of Romeo and Juliet.” —The Hollywood Reporter

“Blew me away...This book is dark, complex, vivid, and romantic—expect to be completely transported.” —MTV.com

“Fast-paced, well-structured and full of twists and turns, An Ember in the Ashes is an evocative debut that has left me invested in knowing what happens next.” —NPR
 
“Once you get caught up in the story, it’s addictive, and there’s no way you can put it down before you figure out what happens to the characters you have fallen for over the course of the 400 some-odd pages. So I didn’t.” —Bustle 
 
“This epic fantasy set in the Martial Empire has it all: danger and violence, secrets and lies, strong characters and forbidden romance and a touch of the supernatural.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

“A setting inspired by ancient Rome; a fierce battle for freedom in the face of tyranny; and a villain who makes Cersei Lannister and Dolores Umbridge look like a pair of pathetic amateurs...An Ember in the Ashes is at the top of our must-read list for 2015.” —MTV.com

“Be prepared to be blown away by this fantasy-thriller-adventure.” —Girls’ Life

“An Ember in the Ashes is a book that's too good to put down.” —RedEye
 
“Perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races or Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass series…The book is already set to be a film, which will be EPIC!” —TeenVogue.com

* “Tahir’s deft, polished debut alternates between two very different perspectives on the same brutal world, deepening both in the contrast. In a tale brimming with political intrigue and haunted by supernatural forces, the true tension comes from watching Elias and Laia struggle to decide where their loyalties lie.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
 
“Tahir’s world-building is wonderfully detailed and the setting is an unusual one for fantasy novels. All of her characters, even minor ones, are fully realized....For fans of Game of Thrones and of Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock.” —School Library Journal
 
“An original, well-constructed fantasy world...truly engaging.” —Kirkus Reviews 
 
“An epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.” —Hypable.com

“First-time novelist Tahir has written an ambitious sword-and-sand adventure story that is notable for its suspense and scope.” —Booklist 
 
“Here's one of the year's most anticipated young-adult debuts.” —io9.com

“I was so engrossed with this book that I missed a connecting flight. If that doesn’t convince you to read An Ember in the Ashes, I don’t know what will. An explosive, heartbreaking, epic debut that will keep you glued to the pages. I hope the world’s ready for Sabaa Tahir.” —Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend
 
“With An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir shows us light in the darkness, hope in a world of despair, and the human spirit reaching for greatness in difficult times.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson
 
“An Ember in the Ashes is a spectacular page turner that asks readers to consider how far they’d go to save the ones they love. Sabaa Tahir is the next superstar in young adult fiction and her debut is as cinematic as Gladiator and as high-stakes as Game of Thrones.”—Holly Goldberg Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s
 
“A heart-pounding story of love and loss, with the most original world-building I’ve read all year. Deeply felt and deeply moving, I could not put it down.” —Margaret Stohl, New York Times bestselling co-author of Beautiful Creatures
 
“This electric debut is a pulse-pounding action-packed Romeo and Juliet story in a richly imagined world with a great twist and heroic characters you’ll root for and won’t stop thinking about.” —Melissa de la Cruz, New York Times bestselling author of Frozen and The Ring and the Crown

School Library Journal
08/01/2016
Gr 9 Up—In this sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, Martial Elias and Scholar Laia are trying to escape from Serra and reach the prison of Kauf, where Laia's brother has been imprisoned for having secret knowledge of Martial weapons. Their journey will be extremely hazardous, since Helene Aquilla, childhood friend and fellow Mask, who is now Blood Shrike for the Emperor, has been ordered to hunt Elias down. Elias and Laia are also trying to evade Elias's ruthless mother, the Commandant, who is scheming to seize power and is willing even to poison her own son to achieve her ends. Most dangerous of all, however, is the grim prison of Kauf, where their attempt to rescue Laia's brother leads to further horrors and some surprises. Told in the alternating voices of Elias, Laia, and Helene, this book is even darker and grimmer than the first, which readers will need to be familiar with in order to follow the twists and turns of the plot. Strong and compelling characters, particularly Helene, who is fleshed out more than in the previous volume, and a number of action-packed sequences help keep things moving. VERDICT This one is bound to be popular with fans of the first installment, making this a must-purchase.—Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781410489258
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
09/07/2016
Series:
Ember in the Ashes Series , #2
Edition description:
Large Prin
Sales rank:
718,964
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

I: Laia
 
How did they find us so fast?

Behind me, the catacombs echo with angry shouts and the screech of metal. My eyes dart to the grinning skulls lining the walls. I think I hear the voices of the dead.

Be swift, be fleet, they seem to hiss. Unless you wish to join our ranks.

“Faster, Laia,” my guide says. His armor flashes as he hastens ahead of me through the catacombs. “We’ll lose them if we’re quick. I know an escape tunnel that leads out of the city. Once we’re there, we’re safe.”

We hear a scrape behind us, and my guide’s pale eyes flick past my shoul­der. His hand is a gold-brown blur as it flies to the hilt of a scim slung across his back.

A simple movement full of menace. A reminder that he is not just my guide. He is Elias Veturius, heir to one of the Empire’s finest families. He is a former Mask—an elite soldier of the Martial Empire. And he is my ally—the only person who can help me save my brother, Darin, from a notorious Martial prison.

In one step, Elias is beside me. In another, he is in front, moving with un­natural grace for someone so big. Together, we peer down the tunnel we just passed through. My pulse thuds in my ears. Any elation I felt at destroying Blackcliff Academy or rescuing Elias from execution vanishes. The Empire hunts us. If it catches us, we die.

Sweat soaks through my shirt, but despite the rank heat of the tunnels, a chill runs across my skin and the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I think I hear a growl, like that of some sly, hungry creature.

Hurry, my instincts scream at me. Get out of here.

“Elias,” I whisper, but he brushes a finger against my lips—shh—and tugs a knife free from the half dozen strapped across his chest.

I pull a dagger from my belt and try to hear beyond the clicking of tun­nel tarantulas and my own breathing. The prickling sense of being watched fades—replaced by something worse: the smell of pitch and flame; the rise and fall of voices drawing near.

Empire soldiers.

Elias touches my shoulder and points to his feet, then mine. Step where I step. So carefully that I fear to breathe, I mimic him as he turns and heads swiftly away from the voices.

We reach a fork in the tunnel and veer right. Elias nods to a deep, shoulder-high hole in the wall, hollow but for a stone coffin turned on its side.

“In,” he whispers, “all the way to the back.”

I slide into the crypt, suppressing a shudder at the loud crrrk of a resident tarantula. A scim that Darin forged hangs across my back, and its hilt clanks loudly against the stone. Stop fidgeting, Laia—no matter what’s crawling around in here.

Elias ducks into the crypt after me, his height forcing him into a half crouch. In the tight space, our arms brush, and he draws a sharp breath. But when I look up, his face is angled toward the tunnel.
Even in the dim light, the gray of his eyes and the sharp lines of his jaw are striking. I feel a jolt low in my stomach—I’m not used to his face. Only an hour ago, as we escaped the destruction I wrought at Blackcliff, his fea­tures were hidden by a silver mask.

He tilts his head, listening as the soldiers close in. They walk quickly, their voices echoing off the walls of the catacombs like the clipped calls of raptor birds.

“—probably went south. If he had half a brain, anyway.”

“If he had half a brain,” a second soldier says, “he’d have passed the Fourth Trial, and we wouldn’t be stuck with Plebeian scum as Emperor.”

The soldiers enter our tunnel, and one pokes his lantern into the crypt across from ours. “Bleeding hells.” He recoils quickly at the sight of whatever lurks within.

Our crypt is next. My belly twists, my hand shakes on my dagger.

Beside me, Elias releases another blade from its sheath. His shoulders are relaxed, his hands loose around the knives. But when I catch sight of his face—brows furrowed, jaw tight—my heart clenches. He meets my gaze, and for a breath, I see his anguish. He does not wish to deliver death to these men.

But if they see us, they will alert the other guards down here, and we’ll be neck-deep in Empire soldiers. I squeeze Elias’s forearm. He slides his hood over his head and pulls a black kerchief up to hide his face.

The soldier approaches, his footsteps heavy. I can smell him—sweat and iron and dirt. Elias’s grip on his knives tightens. His body is coiled like a wild­cat waiting to strike. I clamp a hand onto my armlet—a gift from my mother. Beneath my fingers, the armlet’s familiar pattern is a balm.
The soldier reaches the edge of the crypt. He lifts his lantern—

Suddenly, further down the tunnel, a thud echoes. The soldiers spin, draw steel, and hurry to investigate. In seconds, the light from their lantern fades, the sound of their footsteps fainter and fainter.

Elias releases a pent breath. “Come on,” he says. “If that patrol was sweep­ing the area, there will be more. We need to get to the escape passage.”

We emerge from the crypt, and a tremor rumbles through the tunnels, shaking dust loose and sending bones and skulls clattering to the ground. I stumble, and Elias grabs my shoulder, backing me into the wall and flat­tening himself beside me. The crypt remains intact, but the ceiling of the tunnel cracks ominously.

“What in the skies was that?”

“It felt like a land tremor.” Elias takes a step away from the wall and eyes the ceiling. “Except Serra doesn’t have land tremors.”

We cut through the catacombs with new urgency. With every step I expect to hear another patrol, to see torches in the distance.

When Elias stops, it is so sudden that I barrel into his broad back. We’ve entered a circular burial chamber with a low, domed ceiling. Two tunnels branch out ahead of us. Torches flicker in one, almost too far away to make out. Crypts pock the chamber walls, each guarded by a stone statue of an armored man. Beneath their helmets, skulls glare out at us. I shiver, stepping closer to Elias.

But he does not look at the crypts, or the tunnels, or the distant torches.

He stares at the little girl in the center of the chamber.

She wears tattered clothing and her hand is pressed to a leaking wound in her side. Her fine features mark her as a Scholar, but when I try to see her eyes, she drops her head, dark hair falling into her face. Poor thing. Tears mark a path down her dirt-streaked cheeks.

“Ten hells, it’s getting crowded down here,” Elias mutters. He takes a step toward the girl, hands out, as if dealing with a scared animal. “You shouldn’t be here, love.” His voice is gentle. “Are you alone?”

She lets out a tiny sob. “Help me,” she whispers.

“Let me see that cut. I can bandage it.” Elias drops to one knee so he’s at her level, the way my grandfather did with his youngest patients. She shies away from him and looks toward me.
I step forward, my instincts urging caution. The girl watches. “Can you tell me your name, little one?” I ask.

“Help me,” she repeats. Something about the way she avoids my eyes makes my skin prickle. But then, she’s been ill-treated—likely by the Empire— and now she faces a Martial who is armed to the roots of his hair. She must be terrified.

The girl inches back, and I glance at the torch-lit tunnel. Torches mean we’re in Empire territory. It’s only a matter of time before soldiers happen by.

“Elias.” I nod at the torches. “We do not have time. The soldiers—”

“We can’t just leave her.” His guilt is plain as day. The deaths of his friends days ago in the Third Trial weigh on him; he doesn’t wish to cause another. And we will, if we leave the girl here alone to die of her wounds.

“Do you have family in the city?” Elias asks her. “Do you need—”

“Silver.” She tilts her head. “I need silver.”

Elias’s eyebrows shoot up. I cannot blame him. It is not what I expected either.

“Silver?” I say. “We don’t—”

“Silver.” She shuffles sideways like a crab. I think I see the too-quick flash of an eye through her limp hair. Strange. “Coins. A weapon. Jewelry.”

She glances at my neck, my ears, my wrists. With that look, she gives herself away.

I stare at the tar-black orbs where her eyes should be, and scrabble for my dagger. But Elias is already in front of me, scims glimmering in his hands.

“Back away,” he snarls at the girl, every inch a Mask.

“Help me.” The girl lets her hair fall into her face once more and puts her hands behind her back, a twisted caricature of a wheedling child. “Help.”

At my clear disgust, her lips curl in a sneer that looks obscene on her otherwise sweet face. She growls—the guttural sound I heard earlier. This is what I sensed watching us. This is the presence I felt in the tunnels.

“I know you have silver.” A rabid hunger underlies the creature’s little-girl voice. “Give it to me. I need it.”

“Get away from us,” Elias says. “Before I take off your head.”

The girl—or whatever it is—ignores Elias and fixes her eyes on me. “You don’t need it, little human. I’ll give you something in return. Something wonderful.”

“What are you?” I whisper.

She whips her arms out, her hands gleaming with a strange viridescence. Elias flies toward her, but she evades him and fastens her fingers on my wrist. I scream, and my arm glows for less than a second before she is flung back­ward, howling, clutching her hand as if it is on fire. Elias pulls me to my feet from the dirt where I am sprawled, pitching a dagger at the girl at the same time. She dodges it, still shrieking.

“Tricky girl!” She darts away as Elias lunges for her again, her eyes only for me. “Sly one! You ask what am I, but what are you?”

Elias swings at her, sliding one of his scims across her neck. He’s not fast enough.

“Murderer!” She whirls on him. “Killer! Death himself! Reaper walking! If your sins were blood, child, you would drown in a river of your own making.”

Elias reels back, shock etched into his eyes. Light flickers in the tunnel. Three torches bob swiftly toward us.

“Soldiers coming.” The creature whirls to face me. “I’ll kill them for you, honey-eyed girl. Lay their throats open. I already led away the others following you, back in the tunnel. I’ll do it again. If you give me your silver. He wants it. He’ll reward us if we bring it to him.”

Who in the skies is he? I don’t ask, only bring up my dagger in response.

“Stupid human!” The girl clenches her fists. “He’ll get it from you. He’ll find a way.” She turns toward the tunnel. “Elias Veturius!” I flinch. Her scream is so loud they probably heard her in Antium. “Elias Vetu—”

Her words die as Elias’s scim rips through her heart. “Efrit, efrit of the cave,” he says. Her body slides off the weapon and lands with a solid thump, like a boulder falling. “Likes the dark but fears the blade.

“Old rhyme.” He sheathes his scim. “Never realized how handy it was until recently.”

Elias grabs my hand, and we bolt into the unlit tunnel. Maybe through some miracle, the soldiers didn’t hear the girl. Maybe they didn’t see us. Maybe, maybe—

No such luck. I hear a shout and the thunder of bootsteps behind us.
 
 
II: Elias

Three auxes and four legionnaires, fifteen yards behind us. As I race ahead, I whip my head around to gauge their progress. Make that six auxes, five legionnaires, and twelve yards.

More of the Empire’s soldiers will pour into the catacombs with every second that passes. By now, a runner has carried the message to neighboring patrols, and the drums will spread the alert throughout Serra: Elias Veturius spotted in the tunnels. All squads respond. The soldiers don’t need to be sure of my identity; they will hunt us down regardless.

I take a sharp left down a side tunnel, pulling Laia with me, my mind careening from thought to thought. Shake them off quickly, while you still can. Otherwise . . .

No, the Mask within hisses. Stop and kill them. Only eleven of them. Easy. Could do it with your eyes closed.

I should have killed the efrit in the burial chamber straightaway. Helene would scoff if she knew I’d tried to help the creature instead of recognizing it for what it was.

Helene. I’d bet my blades she’s in an interrogation room by now. Marcus—or Emperor Marcus, as he’s now called—ordered her to execute me. She failed. Worse, she was my closest confidante for fourteen years. Neither of those sins will come without cost—not now that Marcus possesses absolute power.

She will suffer at his hands. Because of me. I hear the efrit again. Reaper walking!

Memories of the Third Trial jolt through my head. Tristas dying upon Dex’s sword. Demetrius falling. Leander falling.

A shout from ahead returns me to myself. The field of battle is my temple. My grandfather’s old mantra comes back to me when I need it most. The swordpoint is my priest. The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.

Beside me, Laia pants, her body dragging. She is slowing me down. You could leave her, an insidious voice whispers. You’d move faster on your own. I crush the voice. Besides the obvious fact that I promised to help her in exchange for my freedom, I know that she’ll do anything to get to Kauf Prison—to her brother—including trying to make her way there alone.

In which case, she’d die.

“Faster, Laia,” I say. “They’re too close.” She surges forward. Walls of skulls, bones, crypts, and spiderwebs fade away on either side of us. We’re far south of where we should be. We’ve long since passed the escape tunnel in which I hid weeks’ worth of supplies.

The catacombs rumble and shake, knocking both of us down. The stench of fire and death filters through a sewer grate directly above us. Moments later, an explosion rips through the air. I don’t bother considering what it could be. All that matters is that the soldiers behind us have slowed, as wary of the unstable tunnels as we are. I use the opportunity to put another few dozen yards between us. I cut right into a side tunnel and then retreat into the deep shadow of a half-crumbled alcove.

“Will they find us, do you think?” Laia whispers.

“Hopefully no—”

Light flares from the direction we were headed, and I hear the staccato clomp of boots. Two soldiers turn into the tunnel, their torches illuminating us clearly. They halt for a second, bewildered, perhaps, by the presence of Laia, by my lack of a mask. Then they spot my armor and scims, and one of them releases a piercing whistle that will draw in every soldier who can hear it.

My body takes over. Before either of the soldiers can unsheathe their swords, I’ve impaled throwing knives into the soft flesh of their throats. They drop silently, their torches sputtering on the damp catacomb floor.

Laia emerges from the alcove, her hand over her mouth. “E-Elias—”

I lunge back to the alcove, pulling her with me and loosening my scims in their scabbards. I have four throwing knives left. Not enough.

“I’ll take out as many as I can,” I say. “Stay out of the way. No matter how bad it looks, don’t interfere, don’t try to help.”

The last word leaves my lips as the soldiers who were following us come into view from the tunnel to our left. Five yards away. Four. In my mind, the knives have already flown, already found their marks. I burst from the alcove and let them loose. The first four legionnaires go down quietly, one after the other, as easy as scything grain. The fifth drops with a sweep of my scim. Warm blood sprays, and I feel my bile rising. Don’t think. Don’t dwell. Just clear the way.

Six auxes appear behind the first five. One jumps onto my back, and I dis­patch him with an elbow to his face. A moment later, another soldier rushes me. When he gets a knee to the teeth, he howls and claws at his broken nose and bloody mouth. Spin, kick, sidestep, strike.

Behind me, Laia screams. An aux hauls her out of the alcove by her neck and holds a knife to her throat. His leer turns into a howl. Laia’s shoved a dagger into his side. She yanks it out, and he staggers away.

I turn on the last three soldiers. They flee.

In seconds, I collect my knives. Laia’s whole body shakes as she takes in the carnage around us: Seven dead. Three injured, moaning and trying to rise.

When she looks at me, her eyes grow round in shock at my bloodied scims and armor. Shame floods me, so potent that I wish I could sink into the ground. She sees me now, down to the wretched truth at my core. Murderer! Death himself!

“Laia—” I begin, but a low groan rolls down the tunnel, and the ground trembles. Through the sewer grates I hear screams, shouts, and the deafening reverberation of an enormous explosion.
“What in the hells—”

“It’s the Scholar Resistance,” Laia shouts over the noise. “They’re revolting!”

I don’t get to ask how she happens to know this fascinating tidbit, because at that moment, telltale silver flashes from the tunnel to our left.

“Skies, Elias!” Laia’s voice is choked, her eyes wide. One of the Masks approaching is enormous, older than me by a dozen years and unfamiliar. The other is a small, almost diminutive figure. The calmness of her masked face belies the chilling rage that emanates from her.

My mother. The Commandant.

Boots thunder from our right as whistles draw even more soldiers. Trapped.

The tunnel groans again.

“Get behind me,” I snap at Laia. She doesn’t hear. “Laia, damn it, get— ooof—

Laia dives straight into my stomach, a graceless, desperate leap so unex­pected that I topple back into one of the wall crypts. I punch straight through the thick cobwebbing over the crypt and land on my back atop a stone coffin. Laia’s half on top of me, half wedged between the coffin and the crypt wall.

The combination of cobwebs, crypt, and warm girl throws me, and I’m barely even capable of stuttering, “Are you cra—”

BOOM. The ceiling of the tunnel we were just standing in collapses all at once, a thunderous rumble intensified by the roar of explosions from the city. I flip Laia under me, my arms on either side of her head to shield her from the blast. But it is the crypt that saves us. We cough from the wave of dust unleashed by the explosions, and I’m keenly aware that if not for Laia’s quick thinking, we’d both be dead.

The rumbling stops, and sunlight cuts through the dust. Screams echo from the city. Carefully, I lift myself away from Laia and turn toward the crypt entrance, which is half-blocked by chunks of rock. I peer out into what’s left of the tunnel. Which isn’t much. The cave-in is complete—not a Mask to be seen.

I scramble out of the crypt, half dragging, half carrying a still-coughing Laia over the debris. Dust and blood—not hers, I affirm—streak her face, and she paws at her canteen. I put it to her lips. After a few swallows, she pulls herself standing.

“I can—I can walk.”

Rocks obstruct the tunnel to our left, but a mailed hand shoves them away. The Commandant’s gray eyes and blonde hair flash through the dust.

“Come on.” I pull up my collar to hide the Blackcliff diamond tattoo on the back of my neck. We clamber out of the ruined catacombs and into the cacophonous streets of Serra.
Ten bleeding hells.

No one appears to have noticed the collapse of the street into the crypts—everyone is too busy staring at a column of fire rising into the hot blue sky: the governor’s mansion, lit up like a Barbarian funeral pyre. Around its blackening gates and in the immense square in front of it, dozens of Martial soldiers are locked in a pitched battle with hundreds of rebels dressed in black—Scholar Resistance fighters.

“This way!” I angle away from the governor’s mansion, knocking down two approaching rebel fighters as I go, and aim for the next street over. But fire rages there, spreading rapidly, and bodies litter the ground. I grab Laia’s hand and race toward another side street, only to find that it is as brutalized as the first.

Above the clang of weapons, the screams, and the roar of flames, Serra’s drum towers beat frenziedly, demanding backup troops in the Illustrian Quarter, the Foreign Quarter, the Weapons Quarter. Another tower reports my location near the governor’s mansion, ordering all available troops to join the hunt.

Just past the mansion, a pale blonde head emerges from the debris of the collapsed tunnel. Damn it. We stand near the middle of the square, beside an ash-coated fountain of a rearing horse. I back Laia against it and duck, desperately searching for an escape route before the Commandant or one of the Martials spots us. But it seems as if every building and every street adjoin­ing the square is aflame.

Look harder! Any second now, the Commandant will dive into the fray in the square, using her terrifying skill to tear a path through the battle so she can find us.

I look back at her as she shakes the dust off her armor, unmoved by the chaos. Her serenity raises the hair on the back of my neck. Her school is destroyed, her son and foe escaped, the city an absolute disaster. And yet she is remarkably calm about it all.

“There!” Laia grabs my arm and points to an alley hidden behind an over­turned vendor’s cart. We crouch down and race toward it, and I thank the skies for the tumult that keeps Scholars and Martials alike from noticing us.

In minutes, we reach the alley, and as we’re about to plunge into it, I chance a look back—once, just to make sure she hasn’t seen us.

I search the chaos—through a knot of Resistance fighters descending on a pair of legionnaires, past a Mask fighting off ten rebels at once, to the rubble of the tunnel, where my mother stands. An old Scholar slave trying to escape the havoc makes the mistake of crossing her path. She plunges her scim into his heart with a casual brutality. When she yanks the blade out, she doesn’t look at the slave. Instead, she stares at me. As if we are connected, as if she knows my every thought, her gaze slices across the square.

She smiles.

Meet the Author

Sabaa Tahir grew up in California’s Mojave Desert at her family’s eighteen-room motel. There, she spent her time devouring fantasy novels, raiding her brother’s comic book stash, and playing guitar badly. She began writing An Ember in the Ashes while working nights as a newspaper editor. She likes thunderous indie rock, garish socks, and all things nerd. Sabaa currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. 

For more information, please visit Sabaa at SabaaTahir.com or on Twitter @SabaaTahir.

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A Torch Against the Night (Ember in the Ashes Series #2) 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Alyssa75 28 days ago
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir Book Two of the An Ember in the Ashes series Publisher: Razorbill Publication Date: August 30, 2016 Rating: 3 stars Source: ARC received via trade Summary (from Goodreads): A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts. In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her, instead. What I Liked: Huh. I feel a little bad about my rating, given how excited I was to read this book. Like, I have been ecstatic for months, after hearing that there would be a sequel. I adored An Ember in the Ashes. But this book didn't live up to my vast expectations. While I think it's a well-written book, and the author will go far with this one (like she did with Ember), there were many things that didn't work for ME, as a reader. Elias and Laia are the two most wanted people in the Empire. Fleeing chaos, the Commandant, the new Emperor Marcus, and the new Blood Shrike Helene, Elias and Laia are determined to reach Kauf prison and free Darin. But something deadly happens and slows the pair down, only to meet up with past allies, one of whom is questionable. Meanwhile, Helene struggles to gain respect and loyalty as the new Blood Shrike. Everyone knows of her deep friendship with Elias - including the Emperor, who sends Helene to hunt down and kill Elias. While hunting Elias and Laia, Helene will find out if she's capable of truly betraying her best friend - and what truly lies in her heart. The positives: I was never bored, there are a lot more explanations about magic, the hunt is a merry chase, and the body count is pretty staggering (which makes things interesting). Other positives are more minor and I'll mention them briefly. I was never bored while reading this book, which I always consider when I rate books. Was I bored? Was I enthralled? Did I want to chuck the book? Did I fall asleep? Did I want to hug the book? I wanted to chuck this book several times, but I definitely wasn't bored. Tahir writes an excellent story, and she writes it well. The plot is interesting (though I had issues with some of the events), there are twists and turns that are predictable but much appreciated. I am very happy to see more explanations and usage of magic in this book. One of the things I wanted to see more of was magic, as well as why Laia seemed special, and what she was seeing. There are efrit and jinn and a reaper, all kinds of creepy and neat creatures. Pretty much everything mystical and magical in book one is explained in this book, and in big ways. Laia is and isn't as special as we think. Elias, on the other hand, has a lot going on in the magic world. The body count is crazy high in this book. Most of them are Scholars, unnamed victims in the war. But there are some critical deaths in this book. The carnage is everywhere! I'm feeling kind of ehh about Laia, but I loved Elias in this sequel. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)
mesmer 29 days ago
Fantastic. Wonderfully dark, even more so than the first in the series, An Ember in the Ashes. The characters' journeys are quite unique and very surprising - several twists that I didn't see coming. With the trials and Blackcliff out of the picture the reader is taken on a road trip unlike any other - it gives the author plenty of room to world build. As an added bonus we get Helene's first person perspective, and it was certainly worth the wait. The book sticks with you - themes and experiences that I had to dissect and contemplate long after the final page. It's certainly the hallmark of good fiction. I haven't read anything quite like this. Incredible job - I cannot wait for the next one.
book_junkee 29 days ago
4.5 stars This was so so so much better that the first one. I was definitely hesitant to even read it since I struggled with Ember, but pretty much right off the bat I was struggling between wanting to devour it and savor it. The first part of the book is a slow burn. There is some build up and some planning and then all of a sudden, a page gets turned and it's like a roller coaster. At one point, the tension was so heavy, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Excellent characters and an interesting story filled with heartbreak, action, and more feels than you could shake a stick at. I certainly hope we get at least one more book. Edit: 7/15/16: Sabaa told me she has two more books in her head and is waiting to see if they'll be able to come out and play.
Anonymous 4 days ago
This book was fantastic and I am looking forward to reading the next one.
Anonymous 5 days ago
Overall it was a good story, but it seemed to be rushed at the end. I definitely like the world of politics and masks the author created. Looking forward to more of her work.
Anonymous 13 days ago
Anonymous 18 days ago
A dark book, full of layers, some still waiting to be peeled back. At first I rolled my eyes with helenes pov. Then after a few sections I realized I looked forward to her parts. I'm excited about Harper, seems like he will be a good character partnered with helene. I can't believe I have to wait TWO YEARS for the next book! I hope not too many others die, but I know its necessary for character development. I hate ( and like) what happened with elias in the begining, but I know it will complicate everything in a horrible, complex way.
Anonymous 23 days ago
Great
Anonymous 25 days ago
Better than the first book! Character development was enjoyable and logical. Story was well writtenand condusive to inspiring one to turn to the next page. I can't wait for the next books to come out!
Anonymous 26 days ago
This sequel wad so worth the wait. I was so pleased with this book. The journeys these characters go on is amazing. The beginning was a little slow but once the story got going i could not put it down. I know the author announced books 3 and 4 will be coming but now i am sad i have to wait so long for them! I love Laia and Elias together. They make such a great team. And the chapters from Helene's point of view really help you understand her more than the first book. Please keep writing because I need more stories of the Empire and of Laia and Elias!
Anonymous 27 days ago
I loved it as much as the first even if it took me a couple of pages to really dive in the world of Laia and Elias. But the last quarter of the book is compensating everything. This one has just been released and I can't wait to read the next one!!!
Anonymous 27 days ago
To read this book!!!! I'm reposting a review on this book as soon as I read it!!!!! The prequel is awesome!!!!!